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Alex Smith’s NFL career defined by his impact and overcoming obstacles – Washington Blog

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ASHBURN, Va. — Quarterback Alex Smith‘s decision to retire from football on Monday ends an NFL career that was never about the stats or flash, but rather about impact.

That was never more evident than last season when, in only six starts, he helped transform a franchise that many had come to dislike into one fans could root for again. Just as it was never more evident than two years earlier, in 2018, when the Washington Football Team fell apart after he was injured.

In 2020, Smith’s comeback from that gruesome 2018 leg injury captured the imagination of the sporting public and, for maybe the first time in his career, turned him into a national figure whose story could, as they say, move the needle. But what he showed last season, with a return to the field few thought possible, was just a summation of his career.

The toughness. The competitiveness. The leadership.

When teammates talk about him, they don’t talk about big throws or flashy runs; they mention everything else. His former college coach, Urban Meyer, raved about his toughness and also called him the “most intelligent player I’ve ever coached.”

All those qualities made Smith a popular player in every locker room.

An anecdote after he suffered his compound leg fracture on Nov. 18, 2018, was telling. At the time, nobody realized how devastating the injury was, but there’s no doubt those in the ambulance headed to the hospital knew — they saw the bone had pierced his skin. Yet, as he headed to the hospital, Smith’s mind was on the game, not himself: How was his backup, Colt McCoy, doing? What was the score?

Considering what we know now, it’s an even bigger example of selflessness than was thought at the time. After the 2018 season — Washington went from a 6-3 mark with a healthy Smith to a 7-9 finish — players to a man said everything changed once Smith was hurt.

They said that even though Washington’s offense wasn’t humming with Smith. At the time, it ranked No. 26 in yards per game and No. 27 in points. Washington was boring and ranked No. 26 in yards per pass attempt.

Smith and then-coach Jay Gruden were still trying to find common ground, about what to do or call at times. Yet, players felt Smith’s impact. He made them feel confident with his presence in the huddle. During tense times he stayed calm. He became known for what he didn’t do — turn the ball over — a trait that contributed to winning games. Quarterback wins and losses can be a misleading stat, but consider this: During his time in Washington, the franchise went 11-5 when he started and 6-27 when he didn’t. This past season, Washington’s young wide receivers mentioned how he would remind them of the routes to run after breaking the huddle, allowing them to play more freely.

Former Washington long-snapper Nick Sundberg recalled being on the sidelines during a game and seeing Washington in a third-and-real-long situation. He worried about being backed up deep in their own territory for the ensuing punt. Punter Tress Way did not share that fear; he told Sundberg Smith would do something. Sure enough, Washington completed a play long enough to set up a far better punting situation. Those little plays weren’t exciting, but they added up.

It’s why Sundberg, discussing Smith this offseason, recalled a game from last season when he and Way were again on the sidelines together. Washington was trailing, but both agreed their team would still win. Sundberg asked Way why he thought that, knowing his answer would be the same. “Because of that man,” Way said, pointing at Smith.

Though Smith’s place in NFL history became secure this season, his career was filled with overcoming obstacles. It’s partly what made him such a strong leader. He went through it all: He knew the pressure of being a high pick, having been selected No. 1 overall in 2005. He knew the burden of failed expectations as he was largely considered a bust for his first three pro years. He knew about dealing with injuries, being benched, losing his job because of an injury and being traded — twice.

Yet he played 16 seasons.

During team meetings, Smith made it a point to sit in a different seat each time so he could get to know another player. Little things.

In San Francisco, he lost his job to Colin Kaepernick while out with an injury in 2012. The 49ers were 6-2-1 with Smith starting. He had thrown 13 touchdowns to five interceptions. But the team stuck with Kaepernick when Smith was healthy. Rather than pout, Smith did what he always did: Show up, work and help his teammates. He even would remind his coaches before games about plays Kaepernick was comfortable running.

In Kansas City, after the Chiefs traded up to select quarterback Patrick Mahomes — his eventual replacement — Smith didn’t change his approach. He showed Mahomes the blueprint for how a quarterback must prepare to succeed in the NFL. Smith said it was more about doing things the right way and leading by example than lecturing someone about what to do. When people chose to pay attention, they could learn.

Washington had become a franchise many had come to dislike, whether because of the ownership, the former team name or the failed expectations that exasperated its fans. But Smith’s comeback and coach Ron Rivera’s cancer diagnosis gave fans something to root for because their recoveries became about more than just football.

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Alex Smith details visiting with the Jaguars and possibly playing under Urban Meyer before ultimately deciding to retire.

In the end, though, Smith had nothing left to prove. Despite starting only six games last season, he had crafted a fairy-tale-type script. His return was a key reason Washington overcame a 2-6 start to win the NFC East. It didn’t result in a Super Bowl sendoff à la John Elway, but it did result in a career capped with an exclamation point.

After announcing his retirement, Smith told ESPN’s Jeremy Schaap on Outside the Lines about going snowboarding with his kids and how that helped cement his decision.

Smith had nothing left to prove in football; he showed his kids how to overcome adversity and not be deterred from a dream or a goal. Now, he can just hold the two jobs he seems to love the most: father and husband.

It’ll be interesting to see what Smith does next. For sure, he’ll make an impact. It’s what he always has done.

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New Baltimore Ravens OT Alejandro Villanueva likes idea of facing former team in Pittsburgh Steelers

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OWINGS MILLS, Md. — New Baltimore Ravens offensive lineman Alejandro Villanueva says he is looking forward to playing the Pittsburgh Steelers, his former team, while also throwing some shade toward wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster.

Villanueva acknowledged Wednesday at his introductory news conference that he didn’t have many options in free agency after hearing from the Steelers that he was not getting re-signed. He listed facing the Steelers as one incentive in joining the onetime rival Ravens.

“The fact that I knew the Ravens is a team that plays hard, a team that plays AFC North-type football and I get a chance to play the Steelers as well was something that motivated me coming here for sure,” Villanueva said.

Villanueva signed a two-year, $14 million deal with Baltimore on Tuesday that includes $8 million guaranteed, a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter. He also drew interest from the Miami Dolphins and Indianapolis Colts, according to ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler.

He becomes the fourth multiple-time Pro Bowl player for the Steelers to play for the Ravens, joining cornerback Rod Woodson, safety Carnell Lake and tight end Eric Green.

As if this AFC North rivalry needed some added fire, Villanueva took a passing shot at Smith-Schuster when asked about the mindset in going to an offense with a drastically different philosophy.

Villanueva said it’s better for offensive linemen to play for a run-first team like the Ravens, adding, “I’m assuming it’s not as much fun for the receivers because they’re not getting all of the catches, they’re making the TikToks, and they’re having fun on their social media.”

Last season, Smith-Schuster gained attention for posting celebratory locker room dances on social media and performing TikTok dances on opposing teams’ logos.

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Buffalo Bills GM says his priority is to reach any set vaccination threshold

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BUFFALO, N.Y. — Buffalo Bills general manager Brandon Beane said during a radio appearance Wednesday that he would cut an unvaccinated player if it meant his team being able to return to some sense of normalcy.

Appearing on “One Bills Live” with hosts Chris Brown and former Bills player Steve Tasker, Beane presented a hypothetical scenario in which teams needed a certain number of vaccinated players to avoid having socially distanced or virtual meetings or wearing masks in the facility.

There is no official NFL mandate on vaccination, but Beane said he thinks it may be incentivized as such.

“The early indications are that if you’re vaccinated … that you are probably going to have to test once a week,” Beane said. “But if you’re not, then you’d have to test every day like we did last year. Still unsure about the masking, how that would go. I think there’s going to be some incentives to where, if you have X percentage of your players and staff vaccinated, you can live normal, let’s just call it. Back to the old days.

“If you don’t, it’s going to look more like last year. … I hope that, if those are the rules, we’ll be able to get enough people vaccinated and not have to deal with all the headaches from a year ago.”

Tasker then presented a scenario to Beane in which the Bills were one player away from reaching that ratio, asking if he would cut a player in order to return to normalcy.

Beane said he would, citing the advantage it would give the team.

“Yeah. I would. Because it’d be an advantage,” Beane said. “We’re laughing, but these meetings [last season] were not as productive as before. You guys saw it in the field house — sometimes we’d have three to four meetings going on, and sometimes you’re talking over each other. But it was the only way to pull it off and be socially distanced.

“So it would be an advantage to cut a player and fall under that umbrella.”

Last season, the NFL implemented myriad safety protocols in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including daily testing, socially distanced or virtual meetings and a mask mandate while in the team facility. With the COVID-19 vaccine’s recent availability, however, it is unclear what the league’s policies will be for the 2021 season.

Vaccinations have been a hot-button issue locally. Erie County executive Mark Poloncarz said Bills games would be open at full capacity this season — but only to fans who are fully vaccinated. That sparked backlash from some, including safety Jordan Poyer‘s wife, Rachel Bush.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo responded to Poloncarz’s announcement, saying such a decision would have to get state approval but calling the recommendation “plausible.”



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Jacksonville Jaguars fire four longtime staff members as part of overhaul by coach Urban Meyer, source says

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The Jaguars have fired four longtime employees in the scouting and personnel department, including one who has been with the franchise since its inception, a league source confirmed to ESPN.

Andy Dengler (assistant director of player personnel), Chris Driggers (director of pro personnel), Mark Ellenz (director of college scouting) and Paul Roell (assistant director of college scouting) were fired Monday. The group has a combined 66 years of experience with the Jaguars, and Driggers was one of five remaining staff members who joined the franchise in 1994.

These moves, as first reported by The Associated Press, are unsurprising because of coach Urban Meyer’s reorganization of the franchise. Meyer has expanded the coaching staff to 27, added a chief of staff in Fernando Lovo, and merged nutrition, strength and conditioning, and training into the sports performance department.

Meyer previously fired director of player health and performance Scott Trulock and strength and conditioning coordinator Tom Myslinski and hired Jeff Ferguson (director of athletic training) and Anthony Schlegel (head strength and conditioning coach).

In addition, Meyer has made it a point to say the franchise’s responsibility is to give the players the best of everything, which is why he is pushing for a stand-alone football facility.

Dengler joined the Jaguars in 1998 and spent the past eight years as the assistant director of player personnel. Ellenz joined the Jaguars in 2013 and had been the director of college scouting since 2016. Roell also joined the Jaguars in 2013; he and Ellenz were hired by then-general manager Dave Caldwell, who was fired in November.

Driggers started in the football operations department and then became the team’s salary-cap administrator. He joined the scouting department in 1998 and was promoted to director of pro personnel in 2015.

Alisa Abbott (executive director to the owner and president), Dan Edwards (senior vice president of Jacksonville tradition and alumni), Mike Perkins (senior director of football technology and special projects) and Tim Bishko (director of ticket operations) are the remaining staff members who have been with the franchise since 1994.

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